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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006 Nov;73(2):274-90. Epub 2006 Oct 21.

Biodegradation of the cyclic nitramine explosives RDX, HMX, and CL-20.

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  • 1US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Environmental Laboratory, 3909 Halls Ferry Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180, USA.


Cyclic nitramine explosives are synthesized globally mainly as military munitions, and their use has resulted in environmental contamination. Several biodegradation pathways have been proposed, and these are based mainly on end-product characterization because many of the metabolic intermediates are hypothetical and unstable in water. Biodegradation mechanisms for cyclic nitramines include (a) formation of a nitramine free radical and loss of nitro functional groups, (b) reduction of nitro functional groups, (c) direct enzymatic cleavage, (d) alpha-hydroxylation, or (e) hydride ion transfer. Pathway intermediates spontaneously decompose in water producing nitrite, nitrous oxide, formaldehyde, or formic acid as common end-products. In vitro enzyme and functional gene expression studies have implicated a limited number of enzymes/genes involved in cyclic nitramine catabolism. Advances in molecular biology methods such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, microarray analysis, and nucleic acid sample preparation are providing access to biochemical and genetic information on cultivable and uncultivable microorganisms. This information can provide the knowledge base for rational engineering of bioremediation strategies, biosensor development, environmental monitoring, and green biosynthesis of explosives. This paper reviews recent developments on the biodegradation of cyclic nitramines and the potential of genomics to identify novel functional genes of explosive metabolism.

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